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Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Power: A Novel

I opted to do my review on Naomi Alderman's show-stopping The Power the same week as The Handmaid's Tale because I feel that these two books are lovers. I'll get more into this in a minute, but these two books feel so intricately connected to me, separated across three decades, and it's absolutely astounding.

It starts slowly, with a few girls here and there. A young girl isn't supposed to be home with her mother, but fends off intruders using it. A teenager in the foster system fights off her abuser with it. A woman is given it by her daughter and uses it to rise to power. A young man is fascinated by it and follows it to the ends of the earth to chronicle it. What is this power, exactly, and where has it come from? It is most likely a leftover from chemical tests during World War II, but it came at a time when women weren't the powerhouses running the world like they are now. I mean, could you imagine? A world with men in charge? That must have been barbaric and unlivable.

Unsurprisingly, this book had been on my radar for a while. Surprisingly, it took me a while to jump on board. I can't say why; I think I have just been bogged down with books and dissertating and working and parenting. I'm glad I picked it up when I did though, because it was a full-scale dive in to a book that hooked me after the first few chapters. These stories are all related, and they are the focus characters in this story that takes a look at a long-ranging (albeit fictional) phenomenon that shakes the world to its core. The brilliance under-girding the story is astounding, really, and Alderman is truly a tour-de-force in regards to the detailed world she has created. It's a world I wouldn't mind living in, frankly, and the whole idea of The Power and what it does to upend gender power is incredible. In the thick of the story, when horrible things are happening to men that we just currently accept as happening to women -- think mass pillaging, torture, sexual assault -- it was hard to read. I had hoped that there would be some level of revenge happiness on my end, seeing men reap what they sow, but it was heartbreaking to know that this was a representation of what we as a gender deal with on a regular basis. The acceptance of these events became stark and clear when reading about them happening to a group that doesn't typically experience them.

Additionally, Alderman's characterization is flabbergasting. She has created a set of characters that are so human that they come alive on the page and I knew them. Really, really knew them. From a middle-aged mother to a young man on the verge of the biggest story of his life to a power-hungry young women, these characters were clearly painted with an expert brush, and the character arc from start to finish was long and languid, leaving me feeling as though I just survived the events with them. I felt I was being let into one long intimate moment that changed the world as we know it.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, as I read this book it felt eerily like a companion piece to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I don't think it's just because Alderman has worked with Atwood. It's deeper than that. It's a dystopian tale that is what happens on the other side of the Gilead coin. What could have been in an alternate, Sliding Doors-esque universe is the story of The Power. It was really moving reading these both so close together and seeing the portrait of the women at their core and how they are related to one another, if only they could have existed side by side. I would highly recommend to anyone reading Handmaid for the first time to read this right after and sit with the meaning of the worlds these women have created. It's astounding. On a final note, the last sentence of this book is striking, and it is worth the hundreds of pages you read to get there. The story as a whole is, but the last line. The. Last. Line. 

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